Sierra Leone’s extraordinary 3-day lockdown came and went peacefully enough, ending on Monday morning – history will be its judge. Our distinctive role within it, feeding well over 1,000 street children all over the country, also passed off well – and was covered on Al Jazeera (click here to view the clip), BBC World and in the Sunday Times.
The main reason I wanted to write today however was in connection with an article in the Independent on Sunday on the wider humanitarian impact of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. It reported on two of our children, a teenager called Princess and her baby, Angie, who The Independent had written about back in May, before Ebola. Those of you who read that feature in May will remember that their tale was a very difficult one but with our help, their situation was improving and there was hope for the future.
Stop reading now if you don’t like unhappy endings. I shed a tear when I heard this news in a late night text back in August and I still shed another when I read it again on Sunday morning.
Baby Angie died.
Like too many – she died because of Ebola; but she did not die of Ebola. She died because she lived in the West Point slum and had the fatal misfortune of falling suddenly ill during the time the Liberian Government snap-quarantined West Point last month. Read the article if you want the tragic details – but our workers repeatedly begged soldiers to let her out of the cordon for treatment, because there was none within. She was refused. Baby Angie died.
I want to thank the Independent on Sunday for running her story. Because in doing so, they have shone a light on a massively under reported aspect of the West African Ebola crisis – the miserable, and in this tragic case, fatal, impact that Ebola is having not just on individuals and households who have contracted the disease, but on entire populations: and generally on the most vulnerable in particular, like Princess and baby Angie.
The wider impact of Ebola – hunger, quarantines, shrinking businesses and in particular the near total collapse of the health sector are worsening the lives of all, dangerous for too many and lethal for some. One of our team leaders had this to say to me last week, “Tom, the truth is as many people here [in the East of Sierra Leone] are as frightened of starving as they are of Ebola”.
Yes, bigger picture, it is vital that Ebola is defeated – we need transformed levels of public health education, medical workers and protective gear; as well as vaccines and cures.
But let this massive effort not totally distract us from the urgent need to bring succor to the growing masses of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians who this wider ‘Ebola crisis’ situation, not Ebola itself, has left gravely in need of simple day-to-day help, just to get by.
Its help that never came for Angie – no-one made sure there was some medical care available in West Point for people who couldn’t get out. But perhaps by her story reaching the outside world, we can hope that her short, brutish life was not totally endured in vain.
Sierra Leoneans need help. Liberians need help. Princess, Angie’s devastated, tragic young mummy, needs help. And she is far from alone.
Because hardly anyone else is . . .
Street Child is feeding children and families who would otherwise go very hungry. Street Child is helping people understand what Ebola actually is and how to keep themselves safe. Street Child is helping families adjust their businesses and livelihoods to keep going in this crisis. Street Child is there for as many of the most vulnerable as possible, when they don’t know who else to turn to – like young Titus when he was shot in West Point in August and our staff ferried him to hospital. Street Child is helping children left in families where Ebola has taken away the breadwinners, or worse left them as orphans.
And we can only do all this with your help at this desperate time.